The second round of the group stage was tough on the favorites at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. In Group A, Costa Rica is the heavyweight team, but had to fight back from a goal down to secure a tie with Canada. Honduras is technically the top seed in that group, but was held to a scoreless draw by a defiant (on and off the pitch) French Guiana. In Group B, the USA was cruising to a multi-goal win until Martinique scored twice to tie the match; USMNT snatched the lead back and held on for a 3-2 victory.
It was a similar story in Group C, where Mexico found itself stymied by Jamaica. But first, Curacao and El Salvador played to see which of them might revive its hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.
Curacao 0-2 El Salvador
Rodolfo Zelaya picked a good time to remind CONCACAF soccer-watchers that he is one of the more talented players of his generation. The 29-year-old turned the game El Salvador's way by setting up Gerson Mayen for the opening goal in the 21st minute and following that with a goal of his own three minutes later.
Curacao's Gevaro Nepomuceno had a chance to put his team back in the match shortly before half-time, but his penalty kick was saved. And El Salvador went on to claim three points and a shot at making the next round.
Curacao is not eliminated from contention for the quarterfinals, but it has no points and no goals after two games and plays Mexico in its final game of the group stage. It is looking like an early exit from Gold Cup for the Caribbean Cup champion.
Jamaica 0-0 Mexico
There is a curious logic that crops up whenever a favorite struggles in Gold Cup: the absence of a dominating win over a supposedly inferior opponent is evidence of the general lack of quality in the tournament.
Judge "quality" however you please, but it is possible that a competition in which the top teams have to work hard for results is more entertaining than one in which it is possible to predict the result of most games before kick-off.
This Gold Cup hasn't provided a major upset yet, and the top teams are all still unbeaten, but there are encouraging signs that the presumed-lesser sides might be able to challenge the favorites. Mexico's 0-0 draw with Jamaica being merely the latest data point pointing toward that conclusion.
Yes, Mexico has a B-team at this tournament. But so too does Jamaica.
The Reggae Boyz did, however, bring their A-team goalkeeper to Gold Cup. A combination of some good work by 'keeper Andre Blake and a little luck helped the Jamaicans preserve a clean sheet. The team has long been a little lackluster up front, but this result should boost the confidence of a team light on top-level experience.
For Mexico, the draw is disappointing but hardly catastrophic. El Tri will still expect to beat Curacao in its final game of the group stage and head to the quarterfinals with renewed momentum.
In the interim, the team will wait to see if CONCACAF decides to take any action for an apparent breach of the spirit - if not the precise rules, per ESPN - of Juan Carlos Osorio's suspension for this tournament. The Mexico head coach is not supposed to be in contact with his team during games, as he serves a sideline ban imposed by FIFA for his antics at Confederations Cup. But Osorio was observed to be passing messages to the El Tri bench during the match. CONCACAF's Disciplinary Committee might have more work to do this week.
Group C is next in action on July 16 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.